Love it or hate it, shopping is something most of us do. And shopping is all about making decisions. What will you buy, and why will you choose one brand over another? Marketers know your senses play a major role in the decision-making process.
Next time you go to the movies, watch TV, or read a magazine or newspaper, pay attention to how many images of food you see: food advertising is big business. These images have been painstakingly created to prompt you to imagine how the food would taste in your mouth right now and begin drooling. And it’s not just your sense of taste marketers are interested in. It’s now well understood that all of our senses are vulnerable to targeted advertising: it’s called sensory marketing.
How something looks obviously plays a major role in whether you want to eat it or not. Colour holds enormous sway over us and it’s no different when it comes to food. In one classic experiment, people were invited to a meal of steak, chips and peas. The only unusual feature was the fact the dining room was very dimly lit. Halfway through the meal, the lights were brightened and the dinner guests were able to see they’d been happily eating dyed food: the steak was blue, the chips, green and peas red. Suddenly a number of people felt ill and headed straight for the bathroom.
It’s not only colour that influences our reactions to food and other products. Both adults and kids prefer glossy surfaces over matte ones: we like gleaming cars, glittery lipsticks and shimmering jewels. Intriguingly, we are more likely to like and want to buy a product displayed on a glossy surface, for example, glass, rather than wood. Why the preference? Several studies have suggested it’s because fresh water is so incredibly valuable to us. And yes, our preference for glossy is even stronger when we’re thirsty.
A warm touch
I’ve written before about the incredible power of touch. It’s a well-known fact you are more likely to buy a product if you can touch it first. Holding something makes you already feel a sense of ownership of it and at that point it’s not such a big leap to fork out the cash and actually buy it. What your own body is touching at the time you are deciding whether or not to buy something can also influence you. When standing on soft carpet rather than a hard vinyl floor, you are more likely to decide you like something that’s for sale.
The touch of another person can also turn us off buying something. In one experiment, shoppers were asked to find a particular T-shirt, try it on and decide whether they wanted to buy it. The study was set up so that the T-shirt could be found either on a normal shopping rack, on the return rack in the dressing room or inside the cubicle of a dressing room. All of the T-shirts were brand new and untouched by anyone else but shoppers who thought someone else had tried on the T-shirt first were less likely to buy it.
The sensations of warm and cold are also important aspects of touch. Research has shown briefly holding something physically warm (for example a cup of coffee) leads us to feel interpersonal warmth. After holding the warm object, we are more likely to judge a stranger as friendly and having a warm character. Experiencing physical warmth, even for just a matter of seconds, makes it more likely that when given the choice, you’ll choose to give a gift to someone else rather than take a reward for yourself.
How does this relate to shopping? We are willing to pay more for something, such as a coffee, CD, batteries or soft drink when we are in a warm, rather than cool room (where the temperature difference is only 4 degrees.) By the same token, we like romantic movies more and are happy to pay to watch them when we feel physically cold.
The smell of a new car
Scratch ‘n’ Sniff stickers aren’t quite the sought-after items they were when I was a kid but the fact remains our sense of smell is powerful. Advertisements incorporating smell tend to be very successful. In the UK, McCain foods ran a campaign where the smell of a freshly-baked potato was released from a bus shelter ad by the touch of a button. Dunkin’ Donuts used ‘flavour radio’ in South Korea whereby an atomizer installed in buses released the smell of coffee only while the brand’s ad was playing on the radio. As a result, Dunkin’ Donuts shops near the buses had a 16% increase in visitors and coffee sales went up by 29%.
We accurately remember particular smells for years and hotel chains use their ‘signature scents’ so that you’ll associate your (hopefully) positive experience with that smell and want to return. A pleasant smell in a shop prompts you to like a shop and stay there longer. Car manufacturers have spent decades perfecting the ‘new car smell’. This chemical cocktail arises largely from new carpets, upholstery, plastics and glues and has come to signal quality and superiority. The smell tends to disappear within six months but don’t fret: if you want to get it back there are plenty of companies who promise to deliver you the new car smell in a spray can. Whether they’ve got the signature smell right or not is another thing.